Electroconvulsive Treatment


Age at interview: 79

Brief outline: Dafydd first felt his wife was clinically ‘ill’ after she retired. After a stay in an inpatient ward, she was offered ECT. His wife didn’t respond to antidepressant medication, but responded to ECT. She continues to have ECT once a month as an outpatient.

Background: Dafydd is a retired researcher, has five children and lives with his wife and two dogs. He describes his ethnic background as Welsh.

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Dafydd’s wife had been “low” for many years, but only became clinically ill after she’d retired 15 years ago. He became very concerned about her well-being. According to Dafydd, the depression his wife experienced did not appear to have an obvious trigger. When his wife first became severely depressed, they tried to get some help via their local health service; the GP then referred them to the local psychiatry department. His wife got worse and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Eventually she was admitted to the local hospital and for each of the previous three years his wife has been in hospital for almost four months. Dafydd supported her and tried to visit her everyday whilst she was in hospital. 

According to Dafydd, anti-depressant medication did not seem to be effective but it did help his wife to get some sleep. After some time ECT was mentioned as a treatment option, but Dafydd can’t remember receiving any written information about this. He welcomed any therapy that may help. Whilst she was still in hospital his wife had ECT twice a week for over a month. After she was discharged she continued to have ECT once a week. She now has ECT once a month – so-called maintenance ECT. Immediately after having ECT his wife would be subdued and Dafydd found it difficult to say how much of this was due to the anaesthetic and how much was due to having had ECT.

Unfortunately when his wife stopped having ECT she went downhill. Because of this she continues to have ECT once a month and Dafydd said, “things have improved enormously”. Since this time, Dafydd found out more information about ECT via the website of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Dafydd likened ECT to “rebooting a computer”. Although he didn’t have a lot of interactions with staff at the hospital, Dafydd was invited to a review meeting towards the end of his wife’s stay, and found this meeting useful. 

His wife is now on a medication that helps the cyclical rhythm of melatonin (a hormone that may help regulate the sleep-wake cycle). Dafydd created a dark sleeping environment to help his wife’s sleep patterns. He thought that a lack of sleep and a lack of sexual interest are the first two things he notices when his wife is becoming depressed. His wife also has DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy). Although he doesn’t agree with this therapeutic approach in its entirety, he feels it has helped her to understand distressing events in her childhood and why she had self-harmed.   

Dafydd has found the mental health charity Hafal very helpful and has learnt a great deal from them. Hafal have carers groups and discussions that he has found supportive. As a result of the cutbacks, there are fewer inpatient beds and now his wife has ECT as an outpatient but he cares for her at home. Dafydd used to worry that she would self-harm when she was at home. He had the support of a Home Treatment team during this time who would visit her once a day. Now both him and his wife want to reduce the amount of ECT his wife is having and will raise the matter at her next review. 

Dafydd has noticed that sometimes his wife is unable to remember the plot of a TV show they have seen before and that her memory is affected in other similar ways. Dafydd says that she hasn’t forgotten ‘essential’ memories of their life together. Dafydd also mentioned the important role of their little dog who is devoted to his wife. His wife has had him for three years and he thinks having a dog made a vast difference.


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